Get ready, get set...go!

Get ready, get set...go!

Using a timer to maximize productivity.

During NaNoWriMo every year, I participate in write-ins, which is where participants get together just to write.  As part of those write-ins, we usually have what we call "word wars," which is where everyone writes for a set amount of time (usually ten or fifteen minutes), and then compares their word counts to see who wrote the most.

I often find that I am more productive when I'm participating in word wars - I write more, faster, than I do during write-ins that don't do these, or than I do at home.  This is a huge secret to productivity: focusing for short, extremely productive bursts.

The idea didn't originate with me - I remember getting a timer some years ago, when I was freelancing full-time, after reading in a writing newsletter that it can help with productivity.  The newsletter recommended working for hour-long bursts, using a timer to let you know when the hour is up, and then taking a break of ten or fifteen minutes in order to let yourself unwind from focusing so hard for so long.

This approach has never worked all that well for me, and NaNo may have given me a hint as to why.  I realized this year that when we do shorter word wars - 10, 15, or 20 minutes - I do a lot better than when we do longer than when we write for 45 minutes or an hour. 

I think this is because it's more difficult, especially with tasks that involve a lot of concentration, to focus that intensely for a solid hour at a time.  Ten or fifteen minutes, on the other hand, is easy to do -- though if you are the kind of person who has to have a few minutes to "warm up" before you can start really focusing on your work, a 20-minute (or even 30-minutes) interval might work a little better.

Timing yourself works great for writers, but it will also work for other jobs, too.  If you want to try it out, but you don't necessarily want to go out and buy a timer, you can use the one on your smartphone or iPhone.  Or, if you don't want your phone around as a distraction, check out this online timer

It's the one I use most frequently when I use this technique.  You can also break a large project up into smaller segments - research vs. writing, for instance, or individual sections of a project - and work until each segment is done, taking breaks in between.

This technique also can help you to put a lid on how long you spend checking email or doing other tasks that you use to "warm up" when you first sit down to work.  Give yourself 10 or 20 minutes, set the timer and when it goes off, move on to something else.

Good luck, and may you have a productive day!